From show co-creators Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason and executive producer J.J. Abrams, the Hulu psychological-horror series Castle Rock is an original story set in the Stephen King multi-verse that mines his best-loved works and plays with themes of darkness and light, all while set in this small Maine town that is full of strange occurrences, mysteries and all manner of sin. Castle Rock is a place with a history that is clearly unsettling, and as its mysteries start to unravel, audiences will want to follow all of the twists and turns to its sure to be creepy conclusion. The series stars André Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Sissy Spacek, Bill Skarsgård, Jane Levy and Scott Glenn.
During this phone interview with Collider, showrunners Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason talked about why it’s taken a decade for them to bring their idea for a show set in the world of Stephen King to life, how scary it was to wait to find out if they had Stephen King’s approval on the project, condensing thousands of pages into one season-long story, their seasonal anthology approach, Easter eggs, putting this incredible cast together, making the town a character, and how the season will only get more shocking and more mind-bending as it goes on.
Collider: I love this show! I’ve seen four episodes and I’m so excited to see more. I think you have the most ridiculously talented cast and they’re just so much fun to watch together.
DUSTIN THOMASON: We sometimes pinch ourselves when we look on the screen. It’s amazing!
SAM SHAW: They’re pretty unbelievable. It’s pretty great.
It seems like you’d want any one of these actors in whatever you might be doing, but having all of them together is just ridiculous.
SHAW: I know. I think there was a vision of what this show could have been – a World of Stephen King show that would have been like the Avengers of Stephen King, with Carrie and Red from Shawshank Redemption driving around in Christine, with Cujo sticking his head out of the back window. We did not opt for that version of this show, but we did form our own Avengers of casting. The only headache when you have a cast this incredible is that you want to be able to write for every one of them, in every scene, but most of the time, you have to be a little bit patient and leave an all-star player on the bench while you’re writing for somebody else.
You guys first kicked around the idea of doing a TV series set in Castle Rock a decade ago. Why didn’t it work out then, and why did it work out now?
THOMASON: A decade ago, we were both pretty fledgling television writers. Being able to work with this material was something that, as much as we started discussing the idea almost for fun, never seemed like a real possibility. People had actually approached Stephen King before about doing a world of Stephen King show. Honestly, I think J.J. [Abrams] was the missing link. The trust and mutual admiration society that they have was the thing that really allowed Steve to feel comfortable with somebody taking on the entirety of his 50 plus novels and trying to create a new story out of it. We didn’t know J.J. back then and we were just getting started, so it felt like a pipe dream. Finally, somehow the magical stars aligned, a little bit later.
How scary was it to try to get Stephen King’s approval on this?
SHAW: It was completely petrifying. It was basically like waiting at the foot of the mountain for the oracle to come down and answer your prayer. It turns out that Stephen King is actually an incredibly lovely man, who’s very gracious and professional, and actually a very good, very prompt emailer. It was petrifying. That period of suspense where we weren’t sure how he was going to respond to some of the creative choices we made was daunting.
In a lot of ways, this is a love letter to Stephen King and his works, so getting his thoughts on it and his approval of it would be like the last piece of a puzzle that you’re waiting to finish.
THOMASON: The first and the last piece, in a way. As people will see, as the season goes on, some of the relationship to the material and the characters really starts to evolve. We see big iconic pieces of Stephen King lore that are continually transformed and moving forward in the story. Even after the initial meeting and his agreeing to let us take a swing at it, with each choice that we were making in the writers’ room, we wanted to make sure it was something that he was excited about, and that he could see the character doing, and really feel that it was in the spirit of the character he had created. That was a total deal breaker for us, if Steve wasn’t happy.
You’ve clearly nailed the core aspects Stephen King’s storytelling with creepy kids, disturbing mysteries, a cursed town, and man’s inhumanity towards man. What was the distillation process like, in taking thousands of pages and condensing them into one original story?